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Why is it so hard to build a repertoire?

Tom

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It seems the problem with building a repertoire is that my tastes keep changing or my memory is slipping. My goal would be 2 - 3 hours of music I can play by memory, relatively mistake free the first time through.

So, before covid I was volunteering 3 or 4 times a month, up to an hour or so each time, mostly from sheet music. Over the years I have started and arranged hundreds of tunes, abandoning many because they were too hard, had tricky parts that I would stumble on, or just got tired of playing. I end up with books of music, of which I can comfortably get through only a small amount.

I expect I am not alone in this issue. My method is always to try to identify a core set of tunes, and add one at a time, building the repertoire over time. But what happens when my tastes change, or I get tired of playing some of those tunes?

When I started, I think I played tunes I thought I should play, or that are so associated with accordion (Amelie and Tarantella come to mind). It seems difficult to think of which tunes I will enjoy over time and impossible to learn to read fast enough to play new songs at speed. So, the battle continues.

Anyway, I'm interested in your experience and any suggestions or methods that have worked for you.
 

Thomas N

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I think for me it was when I became proficient at improvising. I hit a wall about a decade ago where I tired of playing the same songs the same way year after year. I was bored.

I started learning how to improvise in earnest. With my Roland FR-8X and BK-7M backing module I learned to play the melody one time through and then improvise for the next two or three verses and finally end with the main melody once again. This made playing fun again.

If I take a song like Autumn Leaves, or All of Me, I can literally play them for 6 or 7 minutes and the listener will not get bored. I never use sheet music when performing - my instructor was dead-set against this as he said it looked unprofessional. Whether this is right or wrong it's the way I learned accordion and I haven't been able to break the habit. I only play from memory and never bring along songbooks.

I can play now for an almost unlimited amount of time. Three or four hours is not a problem. I find myself bored stiff when I listen to a song played three times through the same exact way each time. To me, nothing is happening. Once the melody is played it's just the same thing again and again. I think it's fine for dances but for a restaurant or captive audience it's repetitive.

When I practice I always try to alternate songs on different days. It's so simple to get into a rut of playing the same songs. If I play a set of five or six songs one day I do my best to pick five or six different songs the next day. If you keep rotating them and practice daily you soon build up a pretty good repertoire.

And I agree with you about tastes changing. I've played Spanish Eyes since I was 11 years old. I just hate playing that song. People like it, it's dead simple easy to play, and playing it mistake-free is normal. I have to remind myself that it's new for the listener. With improvising I can make it more enjoyable for me to play - but I still hate it. :)
 

Paul vdV

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I wonder how long you have been playing?

I really see myself in this story, although I have been playing just over 2 years.

My solution has five parts:
- I have limited the number of tunes I will work on for the next year.
- When playing the tunes I slow down. This is good advice picked up on this forum.
- I will not play tunes which are for now out of reach. Tempting, but in fact they slow down my progression at this stage.
- I focus on a correct, swinging left hand.
- Study scales and arpeggios.

The first one wiil prove to be the most difficult as I love to try out new tunes.

I strive to be able to play an nice repertoire in a year. I have over 40 tunes memorised. That should be enough for now. The focus is on playing them well.
 

saundersbp

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For what its worth, and from someone that's been playing the accordion only a short time....

My solution is two music folders:

- folder one has about an hour of music that I practice most days with the aim of practising it beyond the stage of simply getting it right i.e. aiming at the stage of when it can't go wrong, my sound is musical and my fingers keep moving even if my brain is elsewhere. I guess this is my core repertoire and its also music I find really interesting to play and I'm unlikely to get bored of because of its quality. For me this is some medieval music, Cimarosa sonatas, French baroque (Daquin/Rameau), Philip Glass, a bit of funky stuff and a little C20th century French popular. I tend to play this from memory rather than looking at the notes too much.

- folder two has everything else, which is there because I'd love to learn it but it requires a massive investment of time (like Bach) or its stuff I've got bored of (most of the second rate waltz or pastiche accordiony stuff I learnt in the first few months) and decided to put on a back burner.

I always keep folder one (core repertoire) the same limited size, so if I decide to move a piece from folder two into it, I remove something from folder one to 'make room'. For me an hour of good quality repertoire is as much as I feel confident with at the moment! I had tried a bigger repertoire originally but there were too many bum notes and that got me down. For me personally, a smaller number of really great tunes is more satisfying I think is what I'm finding.....quality not quantity.
 

embers

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I can still recall a smaller number of memorized songs from my repertoire-keeping days. I would agree that it is hard to build a repertoire, especially when gigging and having audiences with different musical likes. Our trio (Embers) practiced a lot to maintain. I on accordion and my brother on guitar did much improvising. Part of our practice time was to select "unknown" melodies from fake books and go for it...careful to not clash the chords we used. Admittedly, there were those moments of dis-harmony, but it was fun to be able to play almost any song anyone asked for. Between the fake books and sheet music we used, I still have those +5,500 songs. Definitely we never played them all. It would be nice if I had them in a digital format today. All those notes on paper I keep in two large, heavy music cases..

I no longer maintain a designed repertoire. I am working and enjoying classical pieces. After the formal lessons ended, I missed that. And it's nice to not be concerned about "chord clashing" any longer. (y) ~Bob
 

Tom

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Thanks for the stories and advice! I would say my experience is closest to Saunders. Paul, I been playing for about 7 years (I think) but admit that I really don't work at it like some on here..... Interesting points about improvisation Thomas, definitely makes sense.
 

losthobos

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I gave this some thought last night and awoke with the conclusion..
The key to repetoire expansion lies in the left hand.... Or at least this trick does...
Tom... If you can play solidly swinging, waltzing or whatever rhythm required and KNOW the changes then play the tune as normal, repeat left hand but just play chord rhythm on right hand altering stabs for variations, then play again alternating lines of the tune between different octaves.... Then play half lines and a couple of chord stabs here and there.... Finish of by returning to the head melody...
Bingo... Hey Presto... Alacazam.. Your SET now lasts 4 x longer
Now to put into practice myself.. 😉
 

jozz

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hugely dependent on what is the definition of mistake-free

if it is playing exactly what is written in the arrangement, then it is a monumental task to keep up a repetoire longer than 30 minutes maybe

if a person asks you to play song "X" and you play it, but not entirely as the dots you have at home, but good and recognizable...you could manage 2-3 hours, depending on age and dedication...

I simply don't bother and always bring my tablet - I could barely manage 1 hour as a solo accordionist right now, and it won't be 100% to the dots
 

Little John

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I never use sheet music when performing - my instructor was dead-set against this as he said it looked unprofessional.

In the folk world the opposite holds - it is considered unprofessional to use music or words in performance! Even amongst amateurs it is frowned upon.
 
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Tom

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I gave this some thought last night and awoke with the conclusion..
The key to repetoire expansion lies in the left hand.... Or at least this trick does...
Tom...
Bingo... Hey Presto... Alacazam.. Your SET now lasts 4 x longer
Now to put into practice myself.. 😉

Goid idea Lost!
 

Tom

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hugely dependent on what is the definition of mistake-free

if it is playing exactly what is written in the arrangement, then it is a monumental task to keep up a repetoire longer than 30 minutes


Thanks Jozz! Yes, this is good for me. Playing the song through without stopping and fumbling around is good for me. I don't need to play it exactly as written.
 

JeffJetton

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A few things that help me:

First, for any tune I want to learn, I usually notate it (using MuseScore) as a lead sheet. That gets it down to one page most of the time, but sometimes two. I have several binders with three-hole sheet protectors in them, and I just slip the lead sheets in there to build my own "fake book". I have one for French gigs, one for German gigs, etc.

I learn the tune from this (and it's nice to keep around as a memory jog when I need it). What I'm memorizing is mostly just the melody and chords, and, similar to Thomas, I'll just "fake" or improvise the rest.

Second, a working understanding of music theory helps in several ways. It helps you break a tune into conceptual "chunks" which are more easily memorizable, similar to memorizing a sentence as words instead of a string of letters. You find commonalities among songs that help (the IV chord changing to a iv minor in nearly every Italian tune, for example!) It also ties in with developing your ear, since it gives you a framework for recognizing relative pitches and chord movement.

Third, if you do gigs where you have to play a specific type of music for the occasion, there are some tunes that can pull double-duty. Learn "Carnival of Venice" for an Italian restaurant gig, and you also get "Mein Hut hat drei Ecken" for free! Learn "Beyond the Sea" for a oldies gig at a retirement home and you can just slow it down to get "La Mer" for your next French set. "Country Roads" works for Oktoberfest, etc.

(We could probably do a whole thread of these "bonus" tunes!)
 

andrewjohnsson40

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It is hard if you do not know the fundamentals of the music and the instrument you are playing. People sometimes focus on repetoir insread of learning the fundamentals of music and technique.
 

losthobos

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It is hard if you do not know the fundamentals of the music and the instrument you are playing. People sometimes focus on repetoir insread of learning the fundamentals of music and technique.
True..... Though i also have noticed a gross error where people are concentrating so hard on playing the accordion that they almost forget they should be "expressing" a piece of music "with" an accordion.... The sound of the music is the most important part...not the instrument itself....
 

JerryPH

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Terry you have a very valid point... if the music is dry, mechanical, then its not quite music, but if you don't have an understanding of "when, how and why" in the fundamentals and improvisation is your thing, your improvisations in comparison would be far less than if you did. Basically it's like trying to travel without a map.

I watched Cory Pesaturo literally show us the theory of how he broke down the flow of 75% of French style music and then out of the blue completely improvise on the spot a unique and never heard French song that sounded so authentic, a Parisian would be asking you what French composer wrote it! :) :) That cannot be done if you didn't understand what they were doing and how to break it apart and put it back together in a new and exciting way!

That said, I'm kind of "meh" about improvisation, maybe because I did not do it much (in the classical world, its kind of frowned upon), and when I did, it was used very lightly and in the world of folk music. I'm of a strong opinion that if you improvise so much that someone else cannot tell you what song you are playing... that's not improvisation, that's playing another song. :)

All that to say, there is an extremely wide range of choices in either direction... but the trick is that if you know how to get somewhere, it is a lot easier. :)
 
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jozz

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Nice piece @JerryPH , and @losthobos Terry,

Now that we are getting back out there, I have been thinking a lot about expression.

I have even begun thinking about putting together a pedal board, to get 'my sound'.

Beyond that, the aim is to play accompaniment for one singer, in a way that a show is never twice the same. It baffles me how I can play improvised accompaniment one day, and the next day when I hear it back I totally change my mind and don't like what I did.

It is a constant struggle and really puts me on the spot to think first about how something translates over to the listening audience. And it's not all music, it's also visual expression and timing, tempo and breaks. It all needs to come together and it's far beyond playing notes alone.
 

JerryPH

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Beyond that, the aim is to play accompaniment for one singer, in a way that a show is never twice the same. It baffles me how I can play improvised accompaniment one day, and the next day when I hear it back I totally change my mind and don't like what I did.
I'm actually happy to see that, because while you like and then don't like what you did... it has a special name... growth. As you grow and evolve as a musician, you will always be your own worst critic, and as long as it doesn't get to the point that it cripples your desire to continue thats a great way to become a better musician! :)
 

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